The Appellate Group

State v. Seach

State v. Seach, 2021 UT App 22 (Harris, J.)


A defendant interacted with a family at a park, eventually shooting his pellet gun at the family’s truck. The defendant, however, felt that the family was acting suspiciously and stalking him, so he shot at their truck in self-defense. At trial, the jury instructions for aggravated assault did not include a mens rea element. The jury convicted the defendant. The Utah Court of Appeals affirmed, holding:

  • The aggravated assault jury instructions were inaccurate because they did not include a mens rea element, and although the instructions gave general information about the types of mental states and strict liability, the instructions never informed the jury that aggravated assault was not a strict liability crime and that the jury had to find that a mens rea applied. 
  • Although the jury instructions were incorrect, the defendant could not show prejudice because he never asserted at trial that his actions were not purposeful or merely accidental.
  • Practice point: The Model Utah Jury Instruction on aggravated assault does suggest a jury instruction that includes the mens rea element.

Read the full court opinion